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Jumping with tubes can be so much fun it might feel like you're cheating on your girlfriend!
Especially if you’re the one flying around them! Although, to be fair, eventually we all have to take a turn at holding one. A tube to a skydiver can be like a shipwreck to a scuba diver, something to fly with, to reference your own skills against, and to enjoy the extra-special visuals of being in close proximity. Obviously you should never embark upon a tube extravaganza without having a proper brief from a qualified freefly coach or instructor who has the necessary time under a tube. There are some additional safety considerations and information you will need when it's your turn to take the tube by the horns…
Before you get anywhere near a plane with a tube you should already have an intimate knowledge of how your particular tube functions and how much it is worth. Yes, they are all pretty similar, but they are also mostly home-made, so tubes vary greatly in operating systems. Some have closing mechanisms to keep them from coming out, some have different types of handles that can add extra sequences to your malfunction procedures. Also, if you lose it you should know how much you have to pay for it. The DZ must know and agree to your tube jump(s) and your system must be cleared by the Chief Safety Officer, or local equivalent.
Obviously you should not go near the door with the tube until the pilot gives ‘clear drop’ and the spot has been checked. Before exit you should already have the tube prepared with all the closing mechanisms opened and be holding the tube correctly for a clean launch. Once your tube is hot and ready to rock ‘n’ roll you should have the handle in your left hand and have the tube hugged closely to your chest with your other hand securing it. One of the most important things is to make sure your tube doesn't come out before you are clear from the plane. In the industry, such an oversight is referred to as a 'negligent discharge', these must be avoided at all costs. In the event of a negligent discharge, where the end of the tube becomes loose, make sure it doesn't go out of the door. If it goes out of the door you should follow it immediately as a tube wrapped around the tail of an aircraft always ends in tears.
Get as many floaters as possible hanging outside the door facing in to create a ‘wall of floaters’. You then key the exit by pushing them all out, go onto your back so you can look back up at the plane and – once you are clear – release the tube and adopt the sit-fly position. Your big fat slice of tube fun has begun!
Once in freefall make sure to hold the tube with just one hand because if you try to hold it with both hands you could end up struggling to control your position. The size and material of the tube determines how much drag you will experience; generally the bigger the tube, the slower it wants to go and the harder you will have to hold on, or hang on. So be strong, don't be surprised if it's not as easy as it looks. Also try to keep a little bit of forward drive on by pushing your hips slightly forward. It's very easy to end up with your hips back as you hold the tube; this could induce a backslide, which is not so cool.
You need to make sure everyone breaks off in a positive and orderly fashion. Typically people are having so much fun they can end up breaking off late, no matter how much you emphasise the importance during the brief. The significance for you is that if you are the Designated Tube Holder (DTH) you cannot track away from them. So, at the break-off altitude, first you need to look up to check if anyone is above you. Generally the bigger the group the more likely there is to be a Low Experience Lurker (LEL) right above you. If you do find a persistent LEL who will not move, you may have to discard the tube and track to safety. If it is clear however, you can go to your belly and pull. Always remember to keep LELs to a minimum.
The deployment itself is relatively easy, just hold the tube out to the side (it was in your left hand, remember), not so far it makes you turn, just comfortably away, and pull. Spinning can cause tube/canopy entanglements so it's much better to hold the tube closer than push it too far out and risk turning. Be ready for some rock ‘n’ roll! Generally tubes do not interfere with deployment, but every so often it might get caught between your lines and wrapped up somehow. If the canopy is flying straight, try to pull the tube down and into you. If it's causing the canopy to turn or dive, then you should let go of the tube and carry out control checks on your canopy. If you cannot control the canopy then you are experiencing a malfunction. First you should clear the tube from your person as best you can, then carry out normal malfunction procedures.
Once under canopy it’s best to be able to stow the tube with a carabiner to your hip-rings or harness and allow the tube to fly behind you. Avoid if possible the old school ‘foot hook’ on the handle as it can induce tripping or stumbling on landing, also not so cool.
There are lots of other ways to enjoy tubes, people have strapped them to their leg whilst head-down, they can be used as pylons for Indy 500 races and even mini tubes can be great fun as they allow you to move around and track off. So be safe, keep the groups small at first… then go massive! Just kidding, keep it small, be safe and have a wicked amount of fun.